Tim Eyman fights to prevent constitutional change to initiative process

Jan 28, 2015, 5:52 AM | Updated: 1:02 pm
Initiative activist Tim Eyman is leading the fight against a proposed constitutional amendment requiring expensive initiatives include a way to pay for them. (AP file)
(AP file)

Tim Eyman has clashed with the legislature repeatedly over the years with many of the initiatives he’s spearheaded. But now the Mukilteo activist is leading a new fight over what he said is an assault on the entire initiative process.

Nearly 40 senators from both sides of the aisle have signed on to a proposed constitutional amendment that would prevent ballot initiatives from being filed unless supporters also include a way to pay for it.

“Very clearly there are a lot of politicians who don’t like the initiative process and they are jumping on the anti-initiative bandwagon to shut the whole thing down,” said Eyman.

The measure was introduced by Sen. Joe Fain (R-Auburn) who said it was sparked by the passage of Initiative 1351 in November — a measure that would decrease class sizes and is projected to cost about $2 billion through the middle of 2017.

“The citizen initiative process in this state is sacred,” Fain told the Associated Press’ Rachel La Corte. “But 1351 provided a very high-profile example that it’s not working the way it’s intended to. This is a fix that will help the initiative process work better.”

Backers of initiatives such as many championed by Eyman that would eliminate specific taxes also wouldn’t be allowed to collect signatures if the measure doesn’t specify which state programs would be removed or cut.

Senate Joint Resolution 8201, which has a long list of bipartisan co-sponsors, would apply to all initiatives whose costs were determined to fall outside of the state’s four-year balanced budget requirement.

The measure directs the secretary of state, under advice of the attorney general, to determine whether proposed initiatives exceed that budget requirement.

But Eyman argues the measure is actually a veiled attempt by lawmakers from both parties to sabotage the initiative process, because the determination of cost is too subjective.

“If the government says no your initiative doesn’t fiscally balance, you’re done. There’s no appeal process, it’s just over,” said Eyman. “The reality is this bill would give the government the power to decide whether or not an initiative was even allowed to be filed in the state of Washington, and that is really dangerous.”

Eyman is trying to mobilize the thousands of supporters who’ve backed many of his previous efforts to lobby the legislature and convince lawmakers to stop pressing the measure.

In a letter sent statewide last week, he argued a number of popular initiatives passed over the years would have been subject to the new measure and easily determined to not meet budgetary muster – effectively killing them. And he said it’s not just initiatives he led:

The Public Disclosure Act, woman’s right to vote, marijuana regulation, Top Two Primary, lower car tabs, state spending limits, liquor privatization, gun background checks, clean energy, property tax limits, smoking ban, limits on affirmative action, charter schools, higher minimum wage, doctor assisted suicide, and many more. Under this bill, every single one of them could have been blocked for non-compliance under this requirement and there would be no recourse for the citizens.

Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, who is one of the more than three dozen co-sponsors, said that voters need to be faced with the same choices that lawmakers are when contemplating whether to create programs or eliminate taxes.

“From my perspective, the proposed constitutional amendment is really a way of respecting voters by giving them honest information and honest choices about the cost of their choices through the initiative process,” said Pedersen.

To pass a constitutional amendment, the Legislature must approve the measure by a two-thirds majority and then it goes to the people for a simple majority vote.

While a majority of senators are backing the proposal, it would have a tougher time in the House. Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina), the chief budget writer, told the Associated Press he’s willing to consider the measure if it makes it to the House, but has reservations.

“I’m generally not in favor of amending the Constitution to limit the rights of the people,” said Hunter.

Eyman plans to keep up the pressure on lawmakers in hopes of preventing the measure from making it to the Senate floor. He said he’s hopeful when the voters realize what’s at stake, they’ll take up the fight.

“The reality is the initiative process is very much like free speech. You have to be able to allow voices that even you disagree with. It’s not like they’re targeting specifically our initiatives, they’re shutting it down for everybody. Legislators down in Olympia make 99.9 percent of the laws. We don’t want them to have 100 percent monopoly,” said Eyman.

Reporting by the Associated Press’ Rachel La Corte is included in this report.

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Tim Eyman fights to prevent constitutional change to initiative process